Tuesday March 6, 2012
A quiet Malaysian hero in his own right
By KARIM RASLAN
At a time when far bigger corporate ‘champions’ seem unable to survive without government support, a young man in the backwaters of the nation is striking out by himself.
SHAHRIZAL is a silent hero. At the age of 22, and with his parents divorced, he has been working hard for the past three years to support his mother and three younger brothers. His father lives in Penang with four more of his siblings, including two sisters.
He has a stall (selling nasi campur and the local delicacy ikan patin masak tempoyak as well as chicken rice) in the central Pahang town of Temerloh.
Located on Jalan Ibrahim and overlooking the broad, flowing waters of the Pahang River you can see both the tree-lined esplanade as well as the slightly forlorn Hollywood-style T-E-M-E-R-L-O-H sign as you have lunch at his stall.
In the past, this part of town — close to the river and near the Majlis Perbandaran building — used to be bustling and lively, but now, as developments have opened up further to the west, the stalls where he plies his business seem a little neglected.
The crowds have moved elsewhere — well over a mile-and-a-half away, across the main trunk road to a newly built area with a grid of brand new shophouses, a smart new bus-stand and a three-storey, branch of The Store.
In truth, much of Temerloh appears slightly bedraggled, from the deserted and run-down Umno building to the MCA HQ with a small but resilient ficus tree poking through the roof.
Shahrizal’s family were once Felda settlers from the Rompin area, moving into town when he was only eight years old.
With one lazy eye and his diffident manner, Shahrizal’s not the type of person to attract much attention.
But his story, a personal and ongoing struggle for dignity, independence, and success is noteworthy, all the more so because he’s achieved so much without handouts or self-pity.
As he said bluntly: “I want to be a businessman. I can’t decide ‘oh today I’ll do nothing’. I’ve got to get up every morning and do it. There’s no choice. Plus there are people depending on me.”
Unaffectedly, but with a certain pride, Shahrizal said that he had never taken a loan, and that all of his equipment — from freezers to dining tables — were paid for with his own money.
The initial capital for his foray into catering came from an insurance payout he received for injuries after a motorcycle accident. But for a young man with limited savings and many dependents, unexpected events — a fire, a theft or an illness — can derail his plans.
Indeed, tragedy remains a constant. His mother’s house burned down late last year. Still, it hasn’t dented his determination.
Shahrizal said he gets up before dawn to go to the market: “I normally spend about RM150 a day on ingredients. Chillies can be really expensive: at one point last year the price went up to about RM22 a kilo.
“Normally, I just buy about 200-400 grams and perhaps one chicken. There’s plenty of ikan patin from the breeders, and they don’t cost much. However, ikan patin from the wild is very, very expensive.”
Once back from Temerloh’s far-off wet market (strangely located way beyond the bus-stand on the edge of the town) on his motorbike, Shahrizal spends the morning cooking.
“My stall is open from around 8.30am to 7pm. On good days I can gross up to RM300 but normally it averages about RM180 to RM200. My electricity bill is about RM300 a month, and there’s another RM80 for water.
Shahrizal said that ever since his mother’s house burnt down, the family had been renting a house across the river for about RM200 a month.
“But,” he added, “I have to sleep in the room above this stall because there have been cases of theft lately. I need to look after all this.” Turning around, he pointed towards the industrial-sized upright freezers, the food display units, the tables and chairs.
When I asked him about his savings, Shahrizal admitted that it was difficult to save: “I’ve got less than RM1,000 in the bank.”
Still, he gets enthused as we talk about his dreams for the future: “I’d like to expand the business, maybe open a branch in nearby Mentakab.”
When I asked how he’d fund such a venture he fell silent. “I don’t really know how to approach banks and offices. There are so many forms to fill,” he said. “They don’t really have time for people like me.”
I could understand his reluctance as he sat alongside me in his tattered work T-shirt and smelling of grease, cooking oil and tempoyak.
But Shahrizal has more immediate concerns. “Temerloh is so quiet. We need more tourists and regular visitors.” He noted that the stage buses that used to bring the now-prosperous Felda settlers don’t seem to be running any more.
Indeed, Temerloh’s good-natured sleepiness is in marked contrast to nearby Mentakab, where a huge, gleaming Star Mall recently opened and will include a brand-new GSC cinema.
Still, Shahrizal didn’t strike me as particularly resentful or downtrodden. All I could see in his eyes was quiet determination to support his family and do his very best for his business.
At a time when far bigger corporate “champions” seem unable to survive without government support, here was a young man striking out by himself. As I said, Shahrizal is a quiet hero, a Malaysian hero.